Thursday, 8 July 2009
A Rest Day Post by Dallas
We get a lot of questions about our nutritional recommendations, and Melissa has written extensively on diet and nutrition on her blog. The general, high-level concepts that we always start with are “eat more fresh, perishable food” and “cut out all that processed stuff“. When we start talking details, however, one of the first hard and fast recommendations we make is “cut all dairy.” That means milk, cheese, ice cream… even “natural” and “healthy” dairy like Greek yogurt and kefir. Here is a synopsis of why I tell my people (yes, you) to stop consuming dairy (yes, all of it).
Why We Don’t Do Dairy
A. Dairy provokes an inflammatory response in the gut, which can adversely effect how you digest and absorb not just dairy products, but all your food. Furthermore, this chronic inflammation can cause “microperforation” (tiny holes) of the intestinal lining, allowing dairy proteins and other foreign substances to cross into the bloodstream (where they do not belong). This causes an immune response as the body attacks these foreign proteins, and is linked to autoimmune conditions such as asthma, lupus, allergies, arthritis, psoriasis and acne.
As an aside, celiacs (those with a gluten intolerance) tend to cross-react with dairy, which means consuming dairy can exacerbate their celiac disease. This is primarily because of the similarity in structure between gliadin, a protein constituent of gluten, and casein (milk protein). It has been shown that 1/3 to 1/2 of celiacs also have specific milk protein intolerances.
It is important to note that the dairy-induced inflammatory response is a separate issue from lactose intolerance (which is simply the inability to properly break down the milk sugar). In general, dairy products are bad news for us, regardless of whether we can digest lactose or not. You may not even realize you have an issue with dairy until you give it up for a period, and then reintroduce it. Everyone responds differently, but most of the time the reintroduction of dairy after four or more weeks of being completely dairy-free is not a pleasant experience. Cheese (a concentrated milk protein) is one of the most common food intolerances.
B. Dairy (particularly milk) spikes insulin levels. It is the combination of proteins and sugars (lactose) in dairy that is responsible for this response, and all varieties – skim milk, 1%, 2% and whole milk – are virtually identical in how they affect insulin. When you drink a glass of milk your blood glucose levels go up a little, but insulin increases three or four times what you would expect. That really doesn’t make sense, because you don’t need that much insulin to deal with the glucose in the system.
When too much insulin is present in the system, the body has trouble releasing the energy already stored in fat cells, and thus asks (in the form of hunger pangs) for more food to burn for instant energy. If this dietary pattern continues, fat stores grow while energy levels need continuous “topping-up” with more food. In summary, insulin spikes should be avoided, especially if you’re trying to manage your body composition or perform optimally. (And, of course, we want that.)
C. Dairy (specifically, cheeses), like grains and processed foods, have an acidifying effect on the body. A net acid-producing diet promotes bone de-mineralization (i.e. osteopenia and osteoporosis), and also contributes to the following maladies and illnesses: kidney stones, age-related muscle wasting, hypertension, stroke and asthma. By replacing cheeses, cereal grains, and processed foods with plenty of green vegetables and fruits, the body comes back into acid/base balance (and a more positive calcium balance). Recent research out of Tufts University has shown that a more alkaline diet preserves muscle mass. We like muscle mass.
Questions? Concerns? Want more information? You don’t have to be a 603′er to ask. Post thoughts to comments.